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REMEMBERING 9-11 . . .and Anna
Anna Marie Benatelli wakened early. She was excited.
With a cup of steaming tea she stood at her apartment window and watched the traffic in the street below then pushed up the window and was met by a gust of chilly fall air. The sun glistened over the city skyline as busy people on the way to work sipped on hot beverages, boarded buses and waived down taxicabs. Anna could smell the yeast from the bread bakery down the street.
A new burgundy wool suit hung from a hanger in the doorway. It was the nicest thing she’d ever worn to work, but today was the first day since her promotion and she wanted to make a good impression. Her mom had made the suit, fitted it perfectly and it flattered her slim waist and short dark hair. Sexy black pumps with two and one half inch heels sat on the floor below the suit. The shoes were new too and cost almost one hundred dollars. Never in her twenty-two years had Anna spent so much money on one pair of shoes but she’d made up her mind not to feel guilty about the extravagance. Not today anyway.
The day held the promise of being one of the best days of her life. Sue Nelson and Cassie Newhall from the mortgage office two flights down had invited her to lunch to celebrate her promotion and she was meeting her boyfriend across town for dinner. He’d said on the phone that he had a surprise but they both knew it was an engagement ring. He’d been making payments on it for a year.
Her new office had a large desk, its own copy machine and an expanse of windows overlooking the city. There was already a stack of folders piled on the corner of her desk and next to them a new shiny name plate with her name and title Anna Benatelli, Senior Loan Processor. As she pulled off the top file and started to work she smiled. Everything was so perfect.
What happened in the next few seconds was indescribable for Anna. Like a movie reel that suddenly breaks and plunges the theater into darkness her world turned black. The accompanying explosion was so intense she lost her hearing. The copy machine flew through the air and pushed her metal file bucket against her side. She landed on the floor next to the window with her right arm caught between the copy machine and the file bucket. It hurt terribly.
Perhaps it was fortunate that she’d lost her hearing because the screams of agony and the cacophony of horrifying noises would have only added to her terror. She tried to stand but her arm was pinned, twisted into the file bucket. She couldn’t see her arm but she felt her own warm blood as it ran from her elbow. Over her head the window had blown out and the wind ripped into the office and she could feel the papers and debris that whipped around the room like missiles. She closed her eyes. She’d forgotten to call her mom and thank her for finishing the suit on time.
Alone in the darkness, her arm now strangely numb, Anna waited for someone to help her. Surely they would come soon. And then she fainted.
When she wakened the room was hot. Everything was hot; the steel cabinet that pinned her arm burned her fingertips. She yanked hard on her arm, trying to free it, but it remained stuck in something on the far side of the file cabinet. She yelled for help but she still couldn’t hear her own voice and her yell was not much more than a whisper.
For a moment she thought she saw someone in the direction of the hall, a beam from a flashlight, no doubt a fireman looking for her through the blackened room.
She couldn’t hear the sirens or the rumbling and grinding of the building around her but she felt the tremors as concrete and steel began to disintegrate. The floor lurched and bounced beneath her as massive steel beams gave way and struck the walls, their tonnage ripping and tearing through wood and concrete and dry wall as elevators plunged thousands of feet, their cables snapping like tiny rubber bands while staircase banisters cracked like tooth picks.
The smoke was overwhelming her as it sucked the oxygen from the room and then Anna saw the fire. She peered toward the door, calling to anyone that might be passing, to let him know her location. The fire department would come soon, and they’d find her. She doubled over holding her mouth close to the floor searching for oxygen but she couldn’t lie down with her arm still twisted around the metal cabinet.
There were flames in the hall and they shot up the doorframe and raced across the ceiling toward the window, toward oxygen, toward Anna. The heat was so intense now it burned her hand when she touched the cabinet. She screamed and screamed and once again yanked hard on her arm. If she could just get free she could crawl out of the room before it became engulfed in flames. She could still save herself.
She yanked so hard. Free! Suddenly free. There was no longer anything restraining her and she slammed against the wall under the window. Her right arm was gone, severed at the elbow.
Her empty jacket sleeve was smoking and the heat was so intense she could feel the skin on her face as it blistered and peeled. She smelled burning hair and realized it was her own. She pulled herself up with one arm and hung out the window and screamed for help. Her scream was silent, folded into the roar of the apocalypse around her.
Her jacket caught fire. She shook the jacket loose and used it to smother the fire in her hair and cover her burning face then hung her head over the jagged window ledge but there was no fresh air outside the window either.
A wall of fire slammed against her back.
Then Anna jumped from the twentieth floor of the North Tower.
As she fell she envisioned her boy friend opening the little velvet box that held her engagement ring.
Her new shoes stayed on her feet for her entire fall.
* * * *
I only saw this girl I’ve named Anna for a few seconds a few years ago. She was no bigger than fly on my television screen. A tiny little shape falling from the top of the TV screen to the bottom and then she was gone. But the image was clear enough for me to see that it was a woman wearing a skirt and a pair of high-heeled shoes.
That image is permanently fused in my memory. This is her story.